A shell fired by Burma army forces hit a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) training ground near Laiza mid-day Wednesday killing 22 young men on impact and injuring 16 more. The victims of the shelling were taking part in an officer training program run by the KIA, the armed-wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
The mortar which is believed to have been a105 mm artillery shell was fired from a Burma army post on Hka Ya Bum mountain controlled by a unit from the Light Infantry Battalion (Kha-Ma-Ya) No. 389, according to KIO spokesperson Lah Nan.
Lah Nan believes that the shelling of the KIO's de-facto capital was intentional. “They (Burma Army) carefully aimed and shelled the KIA officer trainees military parade at noon, so many were injured and killed,” explained the KIO's main spokesperson when reached for comment late on Wednesday.
Lah Nan who sits on the KIO's central committee also claimed that the shelling was a clear indication of the government's intentions towards the KIO. “They only choose the military way of resolution rather than negotiations, they will do the same to other ethnic groups,” Lah Nan predicted.
While the army has shelled Laiza several times since a 17 year ceasefire with the KIO ended in June 2011, the army had not directly hit Laiza since early 2013 when fighting was very heavy near the KIO capital.
According to the KIO all of those deceased and injured in Wednesday incident were between the ages of 18 to 21. Most of dead were Kachin but some of the dead are believed to have been from the KIO allied All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the Arakan Army, another ally of the KIO.
Initial reports indicated that 22 had died in the attack however a 23rd trainee died of his injuries en route to hospital, the Kachin News Group has learned. The remaining 15 survivors are being cared for in Laiza.
Earlier on Wednesday before the shelling took place fighting erupted between troops from the KIA’s Battalion 243 and Burma Army forces from LIB 384 about 6 miles from Laiza. Also Wednesday another Burma army unit from LIB 390 stationed at Gang Dau Yang village fired 105 mm shells at KIA positions in the area.
According to Lah Nan another KIA soldier was killed early Wednesday morning after his unit stationed in Hopin district in Maing Nau was attacked by Burma army troops from LIB 6. The dead soldier was from KIA Battalion 26 under the group's 2nd Brigade.
Two other KIA soldiers from Battalion 11 based in Namti were also ambushed and killed by Burma army troops at about 7am on Wednesday morning, Lah Nan said.
Peace Process could be affected by further bloodshed
Further incidents like Wednesday's shelling could affect the Kachin peace process warned Lamai Gum, a representative of the Kachin Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG). The PCG is a committee of prominent Kachin businessmen who have been active in facilitating talks between the government and the KIO.
“From Hka Ya Bum mountain everything can be seen clearly, so they (Burma Army) intentionally pointed and shelled there,” he said.
UN's Burma envoy Nambiar informed of incident
Lah Nan said that the KIO had informed UN Special Envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar and his colleague Ms. Marian about the shelling on Wednesday's. Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat has traveled to Laiza twice to meet with the KIO leadership.
The KIO also informed Chinese diplomats who had been observing the peace process as well as Aung Min the Burmese minister who serves as the government's lead peace negotiator.
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